By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
The issue of whether Morrison County Commissioner Don Meyer will reimburse the county for extra per diem payments accepted over a period of years was listed on Tuesday’s Board agenda as a discussion item.
Meyer began the discussion by offering to repay the per diems “This issue is becoming a distraction to the Board; I plan on returning the funds,” he said. “All claims in my whole career were made in good faith. Sherburne County exonerated me. I did not engage in any activity that was illegal when submitting my costs.”
Morrison County Attorney Brian Middendorf explained that it is not accurate to say that Meyer was exonerated by the Sherburne County Attorney.
“As she (Sherburne County Attorney Kathleen Heaney) stated in her decision, the scope of her review was limited,” Middendorf said. “She ultimately concluded that the evidence documented in various reports was not sufficient to proceed with criminal prosecution. However, that does not mean that the per diem payments were proper.”
Middendorf explained that criminal liability and civil liability are two entirely different matters. For that reason, Morrison County retained the services of an independent counsel, Scott Anderson, to review state law and Morrison County’s policies on per diem payments.
“Mr. Anderson concluded that two of the per diems collected by Commissioner Meyer were not authorized by state law and had to be repaid,” Middendorf said. “As for the remaining payments, the county’s current policy is ambiguous and therefore, Mr. Anderson concluded that it was up to the other four board members to decide whether it was appropriate for Commissioner Meyer to pay those amounts back.”
“We’re all human; we all make mistakes,” said Commissioner Duane Johnson.
“If a mistake is made and corrected, then it’s no longer a mistake,” Commissioner Tom Wenzel said.
“I’m glad Commissioner Meyer has agreed to pay it back,” said Commissioner Rich Collins. “We are looking at our policies to alleviate these types of concerns in the future.”
“We will look at the policies and specifically state what can and can’t be done,” said Commissioner Jeff Schilling. “We can get on with business now.”
Possible resolutions to be put forward by the Board regarding the per diem repayment by Meyer are being held pending the actual repayment of funds. County Administrator Deb Gruber said that no action was needed at the meeting, since Meyer indicated that he will repay the amount, making arrangements with County Auditor Glen Erickson.
“I’m anticipating Commissioner Meyer will pay the $3,520 as he indicated at the meeting,” said Gruber. “If not, I would guess it will be addressed again by the full Board at an upcoming meeting.”
Collins pointed out that the incident involved only one of the county’s commissioners and not the other four. “As part of its review, Sherburne County looked at the rest of us too and did not find any similar problems,” he said
Other business that came before the Morrison County Commissioners Tuesday included:
• Proclaiming October Domestic Violence Awareness Month in Morrison County;
• Hearing a report from Liota Lind of South Country Health Alliance;
• Approving a rezoning request for Robert and Maureen Nelson of Belle Prairie Township for a five-acre parcel from “manufacturing industry” to “agriculture” for the purpose of building a single-family home;
• Approving a conditional use permit for Ron Miller and Park View Acres to expand to a Tier IV dairy feedlot;
• Approving a rezoning request from Kenneth and Theresa Witucki of Bellevue Township for 10.27 acres to be changed from “agriculture” to “manufacturing industry” for the purpose of expanding their current business, Valley Hardwoods;
• Approving a new tax increment financing (TIF) district for Valley Hardwoods, west of Highway 10 between Royalton and Little Falls, in Bellevue Township;
• Adopting resolutions authorizing special assessments for two cleanup jobs which were completed by the county after property owners failed to complete the cleanup in a timely manner: rural Hillman property for $13,006.80 and Haven Road in Little Falls for $18,475.37. Due to current low interest rates, the rate on the assessments was reduced to 4 percent from the usual 8 percent. The amounts can be paid over a period of 30 years;
• Adopting a resolution certifying the completion of work done on three bridge replacements, ground-in pavement marking and bituminous wear and aggregate shoulders;
• Approving an exempt permit for Horizon Health to hold a raffle Nov. 12 at the Falls Ballroom;
• Proclaiming Oct. 22-28 Minnesota Manufacturing Week, with tours of three local industry locations Monday, Oct. 22. The tours will begin at AirBorn at 10 a.m. and move to Lee Industries of Little Falls next and then to Smude’s Sunflower Oil in Pierz;
• Awarding a contract for replacement of the Public Health rooftop air conditioning unit to RJ Mechanical of Mora for $161,000. Fund will we taken from the building fund, having been projected in the budget. Work will be done in 2013, with State Highway 27 in downtown Little Falls being closed down when removing the old unit and placing the new one; and
• Approving the revised Morrison County compensation and classification plan for recruitment and retention of employees. “We looked at counties with similar budgets, tax capacities and tax levies for comparison,” said County Administrator Deb Gruber. “Position descriptions were updated, all with the help of a consultant, Dorothy Person of Public Employment Human Resources Consulting (PEHRC). This is not about setting wages; it is just a tool used in that process.”
The next scheduled Morrison County Commissioners meeting is a planning session Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. in the board room at the County Government Center.